Based on a true story from 1843, when the 16-year-old housemaid Grace Marks was tried for murder, Atwood re-tells the story in a captivating fictional form. Throughout the book Grace is meeting with Dr Simon Jordan who listens to the her retelling the story of her life, including the events leading up to the day when she allegedly murdered her employer and his mistress (another servant) when in his service. Atwood skilfully describes 19th-century prison and asylum life in great detail.
Quilt referencesAccording to the story, there are three quilts a woman should make before she is married: Tree of Paradise, Flower Basket, and Pandora’s Box. Also, according to Grace, every woman should have a log cabin quilt with red squares in the centre, as it symbolises the home and the hearth fire.
Each section of the book is given the name of a quilt block and the names are used as a red thread through the section. as part of the story.
The blocks are: jagged edge, rocky road, puss in the corner, young man's fancy, broken dishes, secret drawers, snake fence, fox and geese, hearts and gizzards, lady of the lake, falling timbers, Solomon's temple, Pandora's box, The letter X, and the tree of paradise.